|Jessie-Mueller and Joshua-Henry. Photo: Julieta Cervantes|
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Choreography by Justin Peck
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Through Jan. 6, 2019
By Lauren Yarger
Though you may have some doubts about whether you should see the Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, let me persuade you that it is more than worth it.
Reviving a story about a man who abuses his wife in the midst of the #metoo movement is problematic. Why revive this show when there are so many others, with better stories, just waiting for a chance to play the Great White Way?
I can give you two reasons right away that make it worthwhile: Joshua Henry as Billy Bigelow and Renée Fleming making her first appearance in a Broadway musical. Henry's performance, directed by Jack O'Brien, made me see Billy in a new light. It' wasn't a light that cast a shadow on the concept of a husband hitting his wife and tries to hide this offensive trait or tries to get us to shrug it off as acceptable (which would have been the case in previous productions). Instead, Henry stands in the spotlight and embraces Billy as he is: flawed, out of control, but regretful.
This is a new Billy for me. No trying to gloss over the repugnant with charm or good looks (though Henry certainly possesses an abundance of both.) No trying to suggest that women over react or are somehow deserving of abuse, even if the dialogue stresses that he only hit her once and townsfolks are mistaken when they think he "beats" his wife regularly. (other productions seem to want us to think once doesn't really count.) This Billy offers no excuses. Just a transparent depiction of a man unable to figure out how to leave trouble behind and how to embrace something good in his life. It didn't make me like him, but it did allow me to tolerate him.
Fleming as Nettie Fowler and her rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" is worth the price of the ticket by itself. It's so beautifully sung, so moving and deep, that it stopped the show with audience members trying to applaud and wipe away tears simultaneously. I hardly ever tear up in the theater, but this one got me.
So, totally by surprise, I found myself very much enjoying a show I don't really like all that much. Haven't liked it any other time I have seen it on stage and I am not a fan of the 1956 film starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae. The difference here is driven by excellent performances across the boards.
Jessie Mueller, as Bigelow's battered wife who loves him through the bruises and hardships, gives Julie dignity and strength even while justifying Billy's behavior because he is a man who is "unhappy and quick-tempered." She finds a way to forgive which is inspiring. She also displays a high soprano I didn't know she had after getting used to a lower range employed by the actress in her last two Broadway roles in Waitress and Beautiful.
Also displaying a wonderfully high soprano and amazing comedy skills is Lindsay Mendez who plays Julie's friend, Carrie Pipperidge. She and Alexander Gemignani, who plays her intended/husband, Enoch Snow, are a pleasure to watch as they interact. Margaret Colin also gives a nice turn as Billy's older, possessive boss and lover, Mrs. Mullin,
By the end of the show and hearing the rest of Hammerstein's score including favorites like ”If I Loved You" and "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" I realized that what I really don't like about Carousel is the book by Oscar Hammerstein. All of the actors who turn in shining performances and create characters who have lots of depth show the book for what it is: weak storytelling. Hammerstein shares the blame with Ferenc Molnárk who wrote Lilliom, the Budapest-set drama on which Carousel is based.
There's much for the eyes, as well as the ears to enjoy in this production. Set Designer Santo Loquasto whimsically creates the heavens where a Starkeeper (John Douglas Thompson) gives Billy a chance to take another look at his life, and a beautiful carousel canopy under which dancers, skillfully positioned by Justin Peck, resident choreographer of the NY City Ballet, become the horses and riders. Costumes by the always excellent Ann Roth complete the turn-of-the-19th Century look for this Maine community.
Carousel turns our opinions around at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th St., NYC. Performance times vary. Tickets are $59-$169: carouselbroadway.com.
Colin Anderson, Yesenia Ayala, Nicholas Belton, Colin Bradbury, Andrei Chagas, Leigh-Ann Esty, Laura Feig, David Michael Garry, Garett Hawe, Rosena M. Hill Jackson, Amy Justman, Jess LeProtto, Skye Mattox, Kelly McCormick, Anna Noble, Adriana Pierce, Rebecca Pitcher, David Prottas, Amy Ruggiero, Craig Salstein, Ahmad Simmons, Antoine L. Smith, Corey John Snide, Erica Spyres, Ryan Steele, Sam Strasfeld, Halli Toland, Ricky Ubeda, Scarlett Walker, Jacob Keith Watson, and William Youmans.
Brian MacDevitt (Lighting Design), Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), Jonathan Tunick (Orchestrations), Andy Einhorn (Musical Supervision, Direction, and Vocal Arrangements).
Renée Fleming will not be performing the role of Nettie Fowler during these dates:
- Sept. 4 through Oct. 28, 2018
- Dec. 27, 2018 through Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019
And one more thing:
Todd S. Purdum's "Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution " (Henry Holt and Company; 2018) offers a fresh and look at the artistic team, their relationship with each other, their creative process, and their groundbreaking innovations: https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781627798341
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Think PG-13 for content